A Matter of Conversion Targeting modern Orthodox rabbi, Israeli rabbinate draws battle line

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of the Jewish settlement of Efrat conducts the Pidyon HaBen ceremony for a  30-day-old first-born son in Efrat, West Bank last month. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of the Jewish settlement of Efrat conducts the Pidyon HaBen ceremony for a
30-day-old first-born son in Efrat, West Bank last month.
(Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

TEL AVIV — There’s no shortage of Israelis who want to reform the office of the Chief Rabbinate.

Ranging from advocates of religion-state separation to leaders of Israel’s non-Orthodox movements to newspaper columnists, some want to end the Rabbinate’s monopoly over the country’s religious services; others want to dissolve it entirely.

But this week, the Rabbinate appears to have targeted a leader whose critique of Israel’s religious status quo is more subtle. Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, has been summoned to a hearing before the Rabbinate next month where he believes his job will be challenged.

Unlike many of the Rabbinate’s critics, Riskin is Orthodox, supports the Rabbinate in its current form and operates within the bounds of Orthodox Jewish law, or halachah. But he has called on the Rabbinate to condone his relatively progressive policies, especially regarding conversion and ordination of women.

“I’m very much in favor of the Chief Rabbinate, but there has to be a certain degree of pluralism for the rabbis,” said Riskin, who draws a salary from the Rabbinate. “It’s important for the Chief Rabbinate to contain within itself a number of different halachic ways.”

The Chief Rabbinical Council, the Rabbinate’s governing body, summoned Riskin to a June 29 hearing to discuss his reappointment as rabbi of Efrat, a town he co-founded in 1983. A spokesman for the Religious Services Ministry, Daniel Bar, said the hearing is part of a process all municipal rabbis age 75 or older must undergo in order to review their health. Riskin is 75.

But Riskin believes the Rabbinate may use the hearing as a pretext to dismiss him.

An American immigrant originally from New York, Riskin supports a government decision from last November that allowed Israel’s municipal rabbis to perform state-sanctioned conversions. For years preceding the decision, Riskin had performed conversions privately. The Rabbinate has come out publicly against the government decision and has yet to recognize Riskin’s conversions.

“I remain very optimistic that the Chief Rabbinate will understand that we’re facing a time bomb with this problem of the Jews from the former Soviet Union,” Riskin said, referring to Israeli immigrants from the Soviet Union who do not qualify as Jewish according to traditional Jewish law. “We can do a wonderful job converting the children as well as the adults in a warm and welcoming fashion.”

Since he received rabbinic ordination more than 50 years ago, Riskin has been a leader in pushing the limits of Jewish law within the modern Orthodox community. He took over Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue in 1964, transforming it into a modern Orthodox hub focused on outreach. Two decades later, he moved to Israel and co-founded Efrat, today an 8,000-person bedroom community near Jerusalem with a mixed religious-secular population.

Riskin’s network of educational institutions, Ohr Torah Stone, runs modern Orthodox schools from junior high through graduate programs. The network includes the first school to train women as advocates in Israeli rabbinical courts, as well as Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s Jewish studies college in Jerusalem.

In addition to conversion, Riskin has been an outspoken advocate of women’s Torah study. He created a five-year program to train women as Jewish legal authorities on par with rabbis. In February, he appointed Jennie Rosenfeld, who will graduate the program next year, as Efrat’s first female “manhiga ruhanit,” or spiritual leader.

“There’s a moral conviction that he has to his vision of Judaism, an imperative that he feels in bringing that to the world,” said Rosenfeld.

Riskin insists that his conversion process, while more welcoming to converts than the Rabbinate’s, is still done according to Jewish law. That could be part of the Rabbinate’s problem, says Rabbi David Stav, head of the modern Orthodox rabbinical organization Tzohar, who says the Rabbinate views halachic dissent as a challenge greater even than the corruption scandals that have plagued the Rabbinate.

“They won’t remove a rabbi from his position because they saw him break Shabbat or because he’s suspected in some case,” said Stav, who ran unsuccessfully as a reformist candidate for chief rabbi last year. “But a rabbi suspected, God forbid, of conversions different than those accepted in the Chief Rabbinate?” Stav said sardonically, “That’s a reason to take him out.”

Riskin’s allies have closed ranks behind him following the Rabbinate’s summons. Avigdor Liberman, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu political party and former Israeli foreign minister, weighed in on Riskin’s behalf. From America, liberal Orthodox Rabbis Avi Weiss and Shmuel Herzfeld sent a letter to Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer protesting the summons.

In an email, the Rabbinical Council of America’s executive vice president, Rabbi Mark Dratch, said, “While the RCA does not agree with every action of the Chief Rabbinate, we support the Chief Rabbinate as the official religious body of Israel. We are certain that, together with Rabbi Riskin, they will find a way to support his continued work as Chief Rabbi of Efrat.”

Efrat’s local government council passed a unanimous resolution Monday calling on the Rabbinate to reappoint Riskin. Ne’emanei Torah v’Avodah, an Israeli modern Orthodox group that supports rabbinate reform, is organizing a public demonstration of support for Riskin in late June.

If the Rabbinate dismisses Riskin, Tzohar will stop cooperating with the Rabbinate, Stav said.

“I ask myself a lot, why do I still support this institution?” Stav said. “I still want to do everything for this institution to improve and succeed, but not at any price.”

Riskin has remained defiant, saying that he will continue as Efrat’s chief rabbi regardless of the Chief Rabbinate’s decision. But he hopes the Rabbinate will recognize that his positions, while innovative, fall well within the spectrum of Jewish law.

“Throughout Jewish history, especially regarding conversion, there have been two schools — the lenient school and the more stringent school,” he said. “The people of Israel are crying out for the more lenient school.”

Jews Make Booze Father’s Day event includes whiskey history and tasting

061915_fathersFathers across the greater Baltimore-Washington, D.C., region will have a chance to relax while also learning about the history of Jewish involvement in the American whiskey making process.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland will be hosting a lecture on Sunday by author Reid Mitenbuler, who wrote the recently released “Bourbon
Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey.” The event begins at 6 p.m. and includes a tasting of various bourbons.

Trillion Attwood, programs manager at the museum, said they were inspired by the exhibit “Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History” at the National Archives Museum.

“We wanted to do something interesting that would appeal to fathers of adult children,” said Attwood.

The day will begin at 2 p.m. with a free tour of the exhibit at the archives in Washington, followed by the JMM lecture and tasting in Baltimore.
Registered guests can take a bus between the two locations.

Attwood said the museum has experimented over the years with more interactive exhibits that have included pickle- and olive oil-making programs. In 2013 the museum celebrated Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent’s bar mitzvah to honor Jewish artists that have been involved in the comic book industry.

“Here obviously we’re going for a much more adult family audience,” she said. “It’s something fun but different.”

Museum Executive Director Marvin Pinkert will lead the tour at the National Archives, where he served as director for 11 years before coming to the Jewish Museum in 2012. He said it made sense to have a special event now with the “A-Mazing Mendes Cohen” exhibit having just ended and the next exhibit beginning next month.

Pinkert said Jewish-German immigrants were among the first to play a role in America’s alcohol industry before Prohibition went into effect in 1920.

“One-third of all revenue once came from alcohol before prohibition,” said Pinkert, adding that Jewish-Germans were heavily involved in the whiskey business whereas other immigrant groups had taken to the beer industry.

As tour guide, Pinkert will regale participants with stories of colorful characters of the time, including Izzy Einstein — a federal police officer who “used his unassuming looks” to crack down on alcohol possession during the early years of Prohibition.

In addition to the alcohol exhibit, Pinkert’s tour will include a bonus stop to view the Magna Carta, the transformative English political document whose 800th birthday was last week. The charter made official the concepts of government accountability and the protection of an individual’s rights.

“Since I played a role in getting the Magna Carta back on display, I thought it would be a nice addition,” he said.

Pinkert explained that the original document contained references that singled out Jews, who, he said, were essentially slaves to King John of England. In the original version clauses 10 and 11 forgive any debts owed to Jews. Those clauses were not included in the newer 1297 version, which is on display at the archives.

Even though the two exhibits are from different periods, Pinkert said, they are related in the sense that they both deal with issues of levying taxes.

“The whole purpose of the Magna Carta from the king’s point of view was to raise taxes,” he said. “The reason for the government’s involvement in whiskey is for the purpose of taxes.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Wild Pea Partners with McCormick on Old Bay Hummous

061915_brief_hummusBaltimore County-based Wild Pea Hummous is now an official brand partner with McCormick, whose company logo can now be found on its Old Bay Hummous.

Although Wild Pea has been selling Old Bay Hummous since the company’s founding in 2011, this marks a formal partnership between the companies and allows Wild Pea to promote its hummus as such.

“We’re more marketable. We can play with the big boys now,” said Wild Pea owner Blake Wollman. “I don’t think we’re some local mom-and-pop company anymore. We’re more established.”

When Wollman started making his own homemade hummus in 2003, using Old Bay was a no-brainer.

“The number one, most sought-out flavor in Baltimore is Old Bay,” he said.

Along with the new partnership came the launch of the Wild Snacker, a package with two ounces of Old Bay Hummous and a small bag of Popcorners popcorn chips. Wollman also redesigned his labels and launched new flavors, Plain Jane (a traditional hummus) and Pineapple Jalapeño.

The partnership with McCormick took about a year to negotiate and included various contracts and audits. It was solidified about a month ago, Wollman said.

Wild Pea Hummous is currently in stores in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Wollman hopes the new partnership will help his company expand out West.

Wild Pea operates out of a 5,000-square-foot facility in the Randallstown area with about eight full-time workers.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Perfect Match Hopkins-Technion partnership celebrates 15 years

About 110 benefactors gathered at the private home of Bruce Sholk and Beth Kaplan in Lutherville May 27 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the partnership between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The event also coincided with the 75th anniversary of the partnership between the Technion and the American Technion Society, its booster organization in the United States.

The event featured a number of prominent community members that included ATS Executive Director Jeffrey Richard, Hopkins medical school Dean T.E. Schlesinger and Technion medical school Dean Eliezer Shalev.

Since 2001, the two universities’ medical schools have operated an exchange program that focuses extensively on biomedical engineering. The program was made possible through the efforts of the late Fred Hittman — an engineer who emigrated from Germany in the 1930s and later settled in Baltimore.

“It was his baby,” his wife, Sandy Hittman, said. “He thought it would be a good collaboration between the two universities, and so he brought it about.”

Several attendees had parents and grandparents who attended the Technion, including current Baltimore ATS president John Davison, whose father was president of the national organization 42 years ago. Davison has been involved in the organization for the last four years.

“What I always say is, the thing I like about Technion versus other ways of charitable giving as it relates to Israel is you’re giving to an institution who is then educating people who are then literally making the country stronger by their inventions and through their good deeds,” he said.

After the guests spent an hour socializing over drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, a ceremony gave way to the signing of another 15-year agreement between the two universities. Davison began by explaining the importance of the Technion’s work in creating modern technological devices.

“Clearly, many of Baltimore’s philanthropic Jewish families have supported the Technion, and yet not many know the Technion’s successful story and its invaluable contributions to the world,” he said.

Davison listed several recent inventions developed at the school in Haifa, including a pill that takes photos of the small intestine when swallowed, which he briefly held up while at the podium.

His remarks were followed by a recognition from Chairman Emeritus Michael Klein, who recognized individual families that have been instrumental in supporting ATS. Richard then addressed the room and echoed Davison’s praise of the Technion.

“For me, taking the reins of this organization is really fulfillment of a dream,” he said. “When I took the job after spending 15 years in university development, first at NYU and then at Columbia I saw this position as a way for me to use my skills for Israel and the Jewish people which I am extremely passionate about my whole life.”

Richard told the crowd that ATS has raised more than $2 billion since the organization was founded in 1940 and praised the Baltimore chapter for recently raising $9 million.

“All of our success rests on your work in Baltimore, with each and every one of you,” he said.

Hittman shared highlights from the life of her late husband, telling the story of how his family escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s and was supposed to sail from London to the United States but missed it due to his mother’s illness. They later found out the ship was torpedoed.

He later settled in Detroit and settled into the academic world.

“Very quickly this chubby little kid who couldn’t speak much English became the highest ranking student in the class, and by the time he was 13 he was president of his class,” Hittman said.

The two met on a bus in high school and she was immediately drawn to his looks and intelligence, she added. “He had strawberry blonde hair; he began to lose his hair when he was 17. But I liked him because he knew what he wanted. He said, ‘I want to be an engineer.’”

Hittman passed away in 2002,having spent the later part of his life contributing to a variety of philanthropic causes, something his wife said she wants him to be remembered for.

“What he taught us most importantly is how important it is to give,” she explained. “That we shouldn’t concern ourselves only with ourselves, but we should try to make in every way we can the world a better place.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

The Many Lives of Arnold Clapman Renaissance man reconnects to Judaism in Baltimore as he continues lifetime of making music, art

Five years ago, Arnold David Clapman came to Baltimore, as he said, with his tail between his legs. His marriage had ended, as did his many art classes — which during his 25 years in California included teaching at-risk youth and incarcerated men — when funding dried up. California just didn’t feel like home anymore.

He hadn’t lived in Baltimore since 1962, when he left upon graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art to head to the cultural epicenter of Greenwich Village in New York City. No longer feeling the warmth of the Northern California sun, and with some encouragement from his Baltimorean sister, Arnie Clapman packed up to start over again, like he had done many times before.

“Five years out, it’s a whole new chapter,” he said. “A whole new door opened. I was just treading water when I first came here.”

Clapman, 75, whose life has been a whirlwind of making art and playing music, now finds himself playing congas — his longtime instrument — with a variety of musicians in Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community, and the music has connected him to Judaism in a way he had only previously dreamed of. And as a resident of the Weinberg House on Old Court Road, Clapman screens movies for the residents three nights a week, provides monthly cartoons in the newsletter and even fixes his neighbors’ TVs and remote controls.

“I’m the punk kid on the block,” he joked. Clapman even has a girlfriend. “I could be a millionaire, but I don’t think I could be richer. I have everything. What I have money can’t buy.”

Clapman’s reconnecting to Judaism through music is essential to being Jewish, said Guitars of Pikesville owner Joshua Polak.

“Music is at the core foundation of Judaism … That’s the spark that ignites when everything of consequence takes place,” he said, referring to biblical stories such as when Miriam led the Israelites in song after crossing the Red Sea, as well as modern customs. “It’s at the core of who we are. I’m not just talking about music, I’m talking about any sort of artistic expression where all artists find ourselves.”

A look around Clapman’s two-room apartment shows that his life has been anything but ordinary. There are photos of him with famed folk singer Richie Havens, the first performer at Woodstock with whom Clapman had an artistic, musical and business relationship, and of Muhammad Ali signing a painting Clapman made for him; Clapman illustrated a children’s book for Ali and sketched him for DC Comics. There’s at least a dozen swords on display — replicas from “Kill Bill,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and “Excalibur” — die-cast fighter planes and at least seven congas in plain sight, with his two stage congas set up and another propped up with a tuning wrench sitting on top of it.

An easel sits across from his desk in his art and music room. Inside the closet, along with congas, are printouts of his demon paintings, based on “The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” considered an important book in occult history.

“They’re not really idols, I don’t worship them,” he quipped.

The artifacts help tell Clapman’s story, from his time playing music and drawing portraits in Greenwich Village — where he played with everyone before they got famous — to Boston, where he had three children and joined a jazz-fusion band that would later get a record deal and take him back to New York, then to California, where he would teach art to those who may have needed a creative outlet the most.

Baltimore Beginnings
Arnie Clapman was born in Brooklyn, but moved to Baltimore when he was 2 years old, which is how young he was when he first exhibited his artistic abilities. His parents used to draw him pictures, his father in pencil when Clapman was learning to talk and his mother on a slate chalkboard to entertain him. She drew a bird one day, left the room, and when she came back, there were two birds.

“So, I don’t know whether I was a born artist or a born forger,” Clapman said. Drawing occupied his free time at home, where he spent his evenings after school taking care of his young twin sisters along with his other sister, Nannette, who is two years younger than Clampman. Both of his parents worked. “I liked just drawing stuff, but it didn’t really take off for me until I was old enough to read the Sunday funny papers. That was my first exposure to art that I wanted to be able to do.”

Comics like “Prince Valiant,” “Flash Gordon,” “Dick Tracy” and “Tarzan” piqued his interest, as did animals, dinosaurs and monster movies.

“We lived in a very small house. … My brother would make these animals, life-sized animals out of cardboard like a jaguar and various snake things, and my sisters, if they had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, these things would be sitting there and scare the hell of out them,” Clapman’s sister, Nannette Blinchikoff, recalled.

As a student at the Talmudical Academy, Clapman wanted to be able to draw comic book versions of biblical stories as well. As he went on to high school at Baltimore City College, he was emulating the comic-book artists he idolized and working with pen and pencil. But after winning a nationwide patriotic poster contest with his design of a kid saluting a flag, his mother, Terri, hired a local artist to give him lessons, which opened his world to other mediums such as charcoal and watercolor paints.

“I wanted to master them,” Clapman said.

She also got him enrolled in adult art classes at MICA while he was still in high school, and the quality of his work landed him a four-year scholarship at the school.

At the same time, his mother, who Clapman said “what she lacked in funds she made up for in contacts,” got him a job on The Block playing congas at the Rainbow Lounge. It would lead to the other gigs, including drumming for exotic dancers, which helped Clapman pay for books and art supplies.

“At night I had a different life. During the day I was studying art and falling asleep a lot because I was working all night,” he said.

A friend who acted as his agent got him a gig with pioneering bebop jazz drummer Max Roach, who would ultimately inspire Clapman to head to New York after college. While playing the song “Caravan” at a gig at a black club called Estelle’s on North Avenue, Clapman’s hands started bleeding a bit from playing the up-tempo tune.

“I went into the men’s room and while I was bandaging it up — because I was embarrassed, I didn’t want anyone to see — Max followed me into the men’s room, and he said, ‘You’re really good, kid, but you’re never gonna find out how good you are staying here in Baltimore, you gotta go to New York,’” Clapman said. And he listened, taking off for Greenwich Village in 1962, when “everything was just starting,” and got himself a storefront apartment with oriel windows on West 16th Street off 6th Avenue.

The ‘Electric’ Village
“It was like going into Never Neverland, like wonderland, it was just magical,” Clapman said. “You could sense that something really big was getting ready to happen there. It was all about entertainment and music and just the arts, and I just walked into it; it was amazing. I don’t think I got home for almost a week. I slept at a different place every night.”

He would become house percussionist at Café Bizarre, where he would back countless acts including calypso bands, Havens, The Smothers Brothers and The Ronettes, the latter of which he’d accompany to Harlem, where famed record producer Phil Spector taught the ladies their future hit “Be My Baby.”

As he was playing music and making his own art, he was drawing portraits to make extra money. It was at a portrait studio one night where he met Havens, the famed folk singer who would give the opening performance at Woodstock in 1969 and pen the anthem “Freedom.” Havens also drew portraits to make extra money.

“Before that, I didn’t talk to him. I used to watch him play, he was magic. I used to drop everything just to watch him play at the Bizarre,” Clapman said. “So did everybody else; the waitresses, waiters, the whole place would stop. Richie would start singing and everything would stop. He was just hypnotic. It was like nothing else that anybody had ever heard.”

The two struck up a friendship, and Clapman performed with Havens all over the Village, meeting greats such as Bob Dylan. He even shared the stage with icons Carlos Santana and Thelonius Monk.

“The air was like electric,” he said of the Village. “It was like the center of the world.”

But he only stayed a few years. Clapman married actress and dancer Nancy Hall and moved up to Cambridge, Mass., with her in the mid-’60s. The couple would have three children.

In Boston, Clapman took his art skills to Harvard University, where he drew dinosaurs and plants for gift shops and scientists and performed fossil restorations, a dream-come-true for some who drew dinosaurs as a kid. When archeologist Louis Leakey found the “ape-man” skull, believed to be an ancient relative of humans, Clapman was the first to draw it in America, he said.

“All this crazy stuff happened to me,” he said. “It’s being in the right places at the right time.”

All this time, Clapman continued playing music and making art on his own terms. He earned himself a reputation for being a good funk player, which landed him local gigs as well as musical run-ins with Miles Davis, around the time of his “On the Corner” album, and The Staples Singers.

“To this day, my daughter Madeleine [Hall] is a blues singer I think because Mavis [Staples] held her in her arms when she was a baby,” Clapman said. “The music came from somewhere.”

Hall remembers the kind of music her dad was playing back in those days.

“It was very experimental avant-garde jazz,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I don’t know that I recognized it as music at the time. But it was cool having people around playing instruments.”

Clapman was recruited for super-band Baird Hersey & The Year of the Ear, which he described as an 11-piece band with a huge horn section and three drummers playing “avant-garde jazz rock.” It would take Clapman back to New York, where the band cut three albums under a contract with Arista Novus Records, and he reconnected with Havens.

California Dreamin’
Clapman and Havens, along with the folk singer’s longtime manager, Marcia Wolfson, formed ARM Productions (for Arnold, Richie and Marcia), which entailed Clapman working on art and music with Havens.

During this same period, Clapman created comic-book art for Heavy Metal magazine and art projects for Muhammad Ali and Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong.

ARM Productions would take Clapman to California, where he and Havens hoped to get in early on special-effects technology. They used top technology and a created a demo reel showing their colorization and film restoration skills using “King Kong.” Although Hollywood studios were interested, the project never came to fruition after millions of dollars in startup funds fell through.

With seven years of work down the tubes, Clapman decided to stay in California and met a woman who took him up to Santa Cruz, which he called “the most beautiful place I’d ever been.”

“I’d never been any place like that. I was a city boy,” he said. “The surfing capital of the world and redwoods and mountains and nature like I’d never seen. Big Sur, Monterey, unbelievable.”

Clapman started teaching adult art education: caricatures, cartooning, portraits, illustrations and watercolors. But he wasn’t making enough money, and his lifestyle caught up to him.

“I had hit a bottom. In 1991, it all kind of crashed. I was homeless and wanted to stop, couldn’t stop,” he said, referring to drinking and drugging. Although a car accident nearly killed him, it wasn’t until he was threatened with jail time that he decided to get clean.

“The problem all my life was that drinks were always on the house wherever I went, and the drugs were pretty much free, particularly when I was well known. I had dealers following me around,” he said. Even in California, where he was lesser known, “it was still there, all around me.”

He got sober, and through his recovery groups met a woman he would marry and a guy who became his best friend and bandmate, Joey Bryning, with whom he would form “sober band” Crazy Heart.

In the mid-’90s Clapman started working as an overnight counselor at a group home for troubled juveniles, “mostly gang kids,” he said. While on the job, he would work on freelance art projects.

“My wife would give me a pot of black coffee … so I could stay awake all night, and I would do illustrations,” he said. “Kids started sneaking out of bed to watch me.”

Word spread to the kids’ counselors and then to their schools, and in no time Clapman was teaching more at-risk youth from Santa Cruz to the barrios to juvenile hall, where he was affectionately known as “Arnie the Art Guy.”

He opened his own nonprofit art school, and with the work of these kids and other teens, he published “Comix by Kids,” a diverse series of comics still very dear to his heart. Two of the kids from barrios even landed scholarships at prestigious art institutes because of their work.

“I get goose bumps just thinking about it,” he said. “I never saw that coming. … California turned into an amazing trip for me, that’s why I stayed there for 25 years.”

But Clapman’s California honeymoon came to an end. Funding for his teaching dried up, his marriage of 17 years ended, and his age was preventing him from running around the way he used to.

“Everywhere I looked were things I can’t do anymore,” he said. “It was like rubbing my old age in my face.”

He moved back to Baltimore feeling like a failure for having left California under those circumstances.

“I thought it was all over for me here,” he said. But the ever-adaptable Clapman soon made a new, rich life for himself.

A Rebirth in Baltimore
Blinchikoff, Clapman’s sister, reintroduced him to Baltimore and helped him get into the Weinberg House. Through a Chasidic rabbi, the son of one of the building’s residents, Clapman wound up playing with Israeli folk singer Oneg Shemesh at Congregation Tiferes Yisroel on a whim.

“We rocked the place,” Clapman said. “On the strength of that I got noticed by the Chasidic community and even though I have an earring, even though I wasn’t one of them, they took me in.”

He’s become a regular at Guitars of Pikesville, where he performs Sunday, and got a gig with the “Rockin’ Rabbi,” Avraham Rosenblum, known for his work with the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, playing with new band The Brisket Brothers.

“He’s one of those people you instantly fall in love with,” Rosenblum said. “He’s a very big-hearted individual, he’s a got a great sense of humanity.”

Added Rosenblum: “He’s a great conga player. He’s a total natural. It’s in his bones. It’s in his blood.”

Clapman, who has since purchased a “beautiful” talis, said he has everything he ever wanted now.

“What I wanted more than anything that I could never have was the joy, the joyous part of the religion. To be with people that love God so much it just comes bursting out,” he said, “Like Simchas Torah, I’m up on the bimah and I’m playing and the Torahs are dancing around me or I go to a Shabbaton over at Pearlstone and I’m playing congas and I’m soloing and all the rabbis are dancing in a circle. For a Jewish kid this is big stuff.”

Like Clapman, Polak reconnected with his own Judaism later in life.

“It’s something that never leaves you. I think it’s something you find truth in when you’re allowed to,” he said. “We find that when we’re allowed to experience Torah … when it’s not coercion and when it’s more a time of exploration, that’s when you get Torah and that’s what happened to him.”

Rivka Malka Perlman, a member of Tiferes Yisroel who first met Clapman at the Oneg Shemesh concert, said the Orthodox community is very accepting of Clapman in contrast to the Judaism he grew up with.

“[Back then] there was a strong sense of judgment and harshness: ‘You do it like this or you don’t do it at all.’ A very punitive kind of Judaism and judgmental,” she said. “I know in Baltimore, there’s a tremendous amount of diversity and acceptance. In the Orthodox community, the more cultural the better.” She’s seen people perk up when Clapman is introduced to them as a cartoonist or as someone who worked with at-risk gang kids.

Hall, who is 49 and lives in the Boston area, said she’s seen a lot of personal and spiritual growth in her father.

“He didn’t get the kind of recognition that other artists did. I know that at one point it was a big deal to him,” she said. “I think he’s in a different place now, a spiritual place. I think his priorities changed.”

Clapman, who is working on illustrations for a series of short stories written by his grandfather and namesake, Aaron David Schwartz, is now happy and comfortable in his Pikesville apartment, surrounded by mementos of his storybook life.

“These are fleeting moments and that’s why I like to surround myself with all this stuff, surround myself with my life,” he said. “It’s a whirlwind. It would make a great movie.”

See Arnie Clapman perform as a featured guest Sunday, June 21 at Guitars of Pikesville, 806 Reisterstown Road, Suite 6, Pikesville. Music starts at 6 p.m. Visit guitarsofpikesville.com or call 410-415-5400.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

A Winning Partnership

Disabilities and diseases may prevent some children and teenagers from playing sports, but thanks to lifelong sports fan Charlie Levine, young men and women can now get involved behind the scenes with local sports teams.

The Team Up For 1 Foundation, launched less than a year ago, has sports teams adopt kids ages 5 to 18 and imbeds them in the team by having them attend practices and games, interact with athletes and coaches and even helping out on the field.

061215_teamup1

Andy Moscoso (center), a 15-year-old with autism, smiles with members of Stevenson University’s football team, which “adopted” him through the Team Up For 1 Foundation. The organization’s founder, Charlie Levine, is pictured standing, far left. (Provided)

“Andy’s in heaven,” said Frank Moscoso, whose 15-year-old autistic son was adopted by the Stevenson University football team. “When it comes to sports he really gets involved, he puts his heart and soul in it. … His dream is to do something with football or sports.”

Although the young foundation has only paired two kids with two teams so far, there are a number of kids in the process of being paired up with teams, of which there are many waiting to adopt.

The other team actively involved is the University of Maryland, College Park, men’s baseball team, which adopted 7-year-old Tyzaiah “Ty” Jones of Severn, who suffers from neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer. His mother, Colleen, said he’s gone to games, played catch with the coaches and gotten to know the team.

She said her son is an upbeat kid, and “anyone who meets him kind of falls in love with him.”

“He was in the hospital for a bone marrow transplant and three of the players came and visited him and played with him,” Colleen said. “They’re really great guys, and they keep him active, which is good.”

Levine has seen the athletes really befriend the kids and said one of his favorite things is to watch the parents as they watch their kids interact.

“It’s been very fulfilling for everybody,” Levine said. “It’s been a win-win-win wherever you look.”

This is not Levine’s first foray into nonprofit work. For about eight years, he ran a clowning group called The Clown Corps, which entertained hospitalized children and earned him a Business Recognition Award for Community Service from the Mayor’s Office. He helped build up Baltimore’s Maccabi sports program, and each year the athlete who shows the best dedication to community service is given the Charlie Levine Tikkun Olam Award.

The roots of the Team Up For 1 Foundation can be traced back to a little more than a year ago, when Levine stepped down from his position as executive director of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a chapter he helped found. He spent a few months mentoring a nonprofit that helped sports teams adopt kids with brain cancer, but after parting ways with them, he decided to put his own spin on it.

“We’re [working with] developmental disabilities, chronic and/or life-threatening illnesses, anything,” he said.

Ty Jones, a 7-year-old who suffers from neuroblastoma, poses with the University of Maryland, College Park, baseball team, which adopted him. (Provided)

Ty Jones, a 7-year-old who suffers from neuroblastoma, poses with the University of Maryland, College Park, baseball team, which adopted him.
(Provided)

The teams waiting to adopt kids include American University women’s volleyball, Johns Hopkins University men’s basketball, Stevenson University men’s lacrosse and women’s soccer, Goucher College men’s basketball and Towson University’s golf. Levine’s daughters, Maddie, 14, and Cameron, 13, are also starting a chapter at Park School that will do fundraising and outreach.

Stevenson football’s head coach, Ed Hottle, thinks the program keeps university athletes grounded.

“I think it gives us all, certainly me included, great perspective on how fortunate we are to do what we do and play the game that we play,” he said. “In my opinion it’s a very important perspective to maintain, especially with young people.”

Andy has various jobs with the team: During practices, he’ll place the ball for different scrimmages and during games he runs around with water bottles to make sure players on and off the field are hydrated.

“He takes his job seriously,” Frank Moscoso said. “He feels the camaraderie with these guys. He’s pretty much adopted this program where he feels part of the team. They’re pretty receptive to him.”

Moscoso said Andy is savvy enough to know he’s not going to be a professional athlete but working with Stevenson puts him closer to a dream job doing something in sports.

“The one thing that makes the opportunity unique is that he’s not participating as an athlete, but he’s actually seeing the nuances, the ins and outs of what being on the sports field is like,” Moscoso said.

Levine hopes to launch the program nationally after building up the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. He expects National Scouting Report, an Alabama-based company for which he was vice president of marketing, to launch an Alabama chapter.

“There’s thousands of kids and thousands of teams out there that are waiting to be found,” Levine said. “So we’re going to take this to a new level.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Girls on the Move

KSDS third- and fourth- grade girls participate in a program that uses running as a platform for exploring girls’ issues within a Jewish context. (Provided)

KSDS third- and fourth- grade girls participate in a program that uses running as a platform for exploring girls’ issues within a Jewish context.
(Provided)

Sunday morning, the sun was shining and the music was blasting at the starting line for the 4th Annual Krieger Schechter on the Move 5K. For one group of runners, it marked the culmination of four months of training and self-discovery.

On Tuesday afternoons, the third- and fourth-grade girls would race to the lobby of Chizuk Amuno to participate in Girls on the Move, a program that uses running as a platform for exploring age-appropriate girls’ issues within a Jewish context.

For the 12th season, Liz Minkin-Friedman, a KSDS parent and staff member, served as the girls’ coach. Minkin-Friedman, a trained social worker, designed the curriculum “to expand on values and exemplify them in action.”

“Running is just the jumping off point to talk about self-esteem, body image and respect,” said Minkin-Friedman. “We teach the girls how to listen in silence, how to listen to themselves. There are no phones, no television, no distractions. They can really be in their heads.”

The girls established a routine, kicking off their training sessions with a nickname cheer before heading outside for group warm-ups and practice runs to put the good running techniques they had learned into practice.

Sometimes they would run in pairs and were given an assignment to discuss with their partner. Other times they worked on setting their own pace, giving their coach and parent volunteers an opportunity to catch up with each of them one-on-one.

Back inside Chizuk Amuno, the girls would be given problem-solving prompts that emphasized such values as friendship, communication, listening and team work.

Which isn’t to say that the occasional disagreement, particularly during a competitive team-building exercise, didn’t occur, but when flare-ups happened, the girls had been taught to stop, self-reflect and express themselves using first-person statements.

The morning of the race, the girls warmed up and took their places at the starting line together before speeding off at their own individual paces on the 3.1-mile long course that snaked through the neighborhood surrounding their school.

At the finish line, several of the girls were eager to share their thoughts on the race and the lessons they had learned through Girls on the Move.

Third-grader Noa Rone, all smiles after her 40-minute run, said she learned through Girls on the Move that “if you put your mind to it, you can really do it.”

Another takeaway for Rone was learning about teamwork. “We learned to be like a team and do stuff even if you don’t really want to.”

Kaitlyn Rochlin, also in third grade, echoed Rone in citing teamwork as a lesson well learned. “It’s important to have [teamwork], to help each other,” said Rochlin.

She added, “I feel amazing. Just accomplishing this is a great feeling. If two years ago you told me that I’d want to run a 5K, I’d say, ‘No way!’, so I’m glad I could do it.”

“I really wanted to run the 5K and spend time with my friends,” said Kylie Beckerman-Berman, also in third grade. “It was really fun, and Girls on the Move was really awesome. It’s nice to be with a group of girls. The race was so fun, and finishing the 5K was a great feeling.”

“I was really happy I could accomplish this because I trained for a long time,” said third-grader Rose Seidman. “We did practice runs and used different techniques, like when you go downhill you have to bend down.”

“You should always try your best,” Seidman added. “What matters is that you have fun and try your best.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Honeymoon Israel Young couples get their chance to do the Birthright thing

The Phoenix group from one of  the pilot Honeymoon Israel trips  gathers in Jerusalem, in May.

The Phoenix group from one of
the pilot Honeymoon Israel trips
gathers in Jerusalem, in May.

JERUSALEM — Jay and Mikelle sat next to each other on the bus as it ascended the road to Jerusalem.

Later the same day they accompanied each other on an emotional trip to Yad Vashem,Israel’s Holocaust museum. The next day they planned to trek up to the desert fortress at Masada and swim together in the Dead Sea.

During its week-and-a-half journey through Israel, their bus would stop so they could hike up north and relax at the beach in Tel Aviv. Some of the group had been here before; for others it was their first time.

But unlike the hundreds of Taglit-Birthright Israel buses that traverse Israel every year, there were no random hookups on this tour. Its participants were couples, some with children. About a third of the participants weren’t Jewish.
Called Honeymoon Israel, the trip is a “Birthright” for married couples aged 25 to 40. Like Birthright — the free 10-day journeys to Israel for 18- to 26-year-old Jews — the couples’ excursion hopes to foster Jewish identity in its participants as they are settling down and having kids.

Acknowledging the growing number of intermarried families, the trip mandates that only one of the two partners be Jewish.

“We plan on raising our household Jewish,” said Jay Belfore, a trip participant who was raised Catholic and whose wife, Mikelle, is Jewish. “In order for me to gain a better understanding of the culture, seeing Israel is important to us.”

On their second date, Mikelle told Jay that she wanted to raise Jewish children. Jay appreciates Judaism’s emphasis on family, and said the trip has given him a frame of reference for Jewish life, teaching him about the origins of holidays and customs. The couple has two children, 3 and 1.

“My hope was that Jay would learn about Judaism on a deeper level and would feel more involved in our children’s upbringing,” Mikelle said. “Honeymoon Israel has created a safe place for couples in similar situations.”

That safe place is the trip’s goal, said Honeymoon Israel co-CEO Avi Rubel, who launched the project with co-CEO Mike Wise. Families and Jewish communities at home can be judgmental of intermarried couples or those without much Jewish background, he said, and coming to Israel together allows them to have an immersive and supportive Jewish experience.

“What if they did feel welcome and not judged, and at home in the Jewish community?” said Rubel, formerly the founding North American director of Masa Israel Journey, which coordinates long-term Israel programs for young people. “Then at this time they’re looking for meaning, and they would find it in the Jewish community.”

Honeymoon Israel’s two pilot trips, from Los Angeles and Phoenix, arrived in late May with 20 couples each. There was an outsize demand — 85 couples applied from Los Angeles and 51 from Phoenix — and interviews were part of the process.

While the trip’s total expenses add up to about $10,000 per couple, the couples pay only $1,800. The Boston-based Jacobson Family Foundation is the primary funder. The trip is not linked to Taglit-Birthright Israel, which is paid for in part by the Israeli government. Rubel and Wise, the former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo in New York, hope to run 50 Honeymoon Israel trips a year.

Such initiatives, said Jewish sociologist Steven Cohen, are crucial in light of the results of the Pew Research Center’s 2013 “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which showed that 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews were intermarrying. Showing intermarried couples a Jewish society, Cohen said, can give the non-Jewish spouse a larger context to connect personally to Judaism.

“Being Jewish in yourself is connected with being Jewish in your family, in your community and in your people,” said Cohen, a research professor at Hebrew Union CollegeJewish Institute of Religion. “These circles of social identity are layered from top to bottom.” Honeymoon Israel is one of a few imitation Birthright programs to emerge in recent years.
The Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project runs eight-day group trips to Israel for Jewish mothers. An organization called Covenant Journey plans to bring groups of Evangelical Christian youth to Israel for subsidized trips starting this year.

Honeymoon Israel takes its participants across the country, but spends more time in Tel Aviv than most Birthright trips, aiming to show Israel’s modern culture as well as its historical and biblical sites. Participants on the Phoenix trip did Havdalah, the closing ceremony of Shabbat, with Beit Tefillah Israeli, a liberal prayer group that meets on the beach. And the group spent a day in northern Israel learning about coexistence efforts between Arabs and Jews.

“This is not a Disney World trip,” Rubel said. “We want people to see Israel in all its complexity. We want people to have a positive experience in Israel. We think part of doing that is giving people a chance to see the whole picture.”

The trips also aim to maintain connections among the couples after they return to their home city. Couples met at a Shabbat dinner before the trip, and monthly Shabbat dinners are planned for when they return. A trip staff member will also be available to meet with the couples back home.

“In this modern world where we have almost no boundaries, the new face of Jews is definitely an international one,” said Khai Ling Tan, who was born in Malaysia and whose husband, Jonathan Levine, is Jewish. “You don’t want to be exclusive because when you do that, your world becomes smaller and smaller and smaller.”

BJC Discusses Agenda Cardin, Gross highlight annual meeting

The Baltimore Jewish Council’s annual meeting June 4 at Beth El Congregation was packed with political stars from the Jewish community that included U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Alan Gross  –  a government contractor who spent five years in a Cuban prison before being released in December 2014. Also present was Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and several members of the Maryland House of Delegates.

The event began with a brief discussion of the week’s parshah from Rabbi Andrew Busch and then a set of awards presented to Rona and Ben Kramer. Rona was honored for her service in the Maryland State Senate and as the secretary of the Department of Aging. Ben was recognized for his service in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he has served since 2007.

Gross, who lives in Washington, D.C., opened his remarks by telling the crowd that he had lived in Baltimore between 1959 and 1967 and had several family members who were married at Beth El.

“Since I’ve been home, so many people have come up to me,” he said.

Alan Gross (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Alan Gross (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

His tone became humble while he thanked a number of people who were instrumental to his release that included President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, Sen. Cardin, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Gross’s wife, Judith.

“They stood up for me, supported me, and I will always stand up for them,” he said.

Gross didn’t discuss the details of his time in prison but said when he boarded Air Force One on Dec. 17 he was asked what he would like his first meal to be as a free man, to which he replied “a corned beef sandwich and latkes.”

Ultimately, Gross thinks it was the grassroots movement that led to his release.

“I had to ask myself what ultimately tipped the scales in the right direction,” Gross said. “What ultimately enabled the president to make such a historic decision? The answer: Everyone.”

Cardin then took the floor and discussed a variety of topics that included foreign and domestic policy toward Israel as well as the impending Iran nuclear deal.

He expressed concern over the 10-year old boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which has made its way on to 300 college campuses in the United States.

“They are trying to bring Israel down,” he said. “That’s what BDS does.”

Ben Cardin (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Ben Cardin (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

Cardin said he believes the Palestinians have tried to take a course that involves getting the support of several third parties and cautioned against relying on the United Nations to broker a deal between the two groups.

“We know the two-state solution is the only way we can go forward,” said Cardin.

He said that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is “much stronger” than many have made it out to be lately and added he found statements between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “regrettable.”

Cardin believes the U.S. is the only country that will stand with Israel on these issues and discussed how he and Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman introduced the United States-Israel Trade Enhancement Act of 2015, which requires trade negotiators to include anti-BDS trade provisions with Europe.

Cardin, a Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then turned his focus to the recent negotiations over framework for an Iran nuclear deal, which he helped craft in April with Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the committee.

“The circumstances are at a crisis level,” Cardin said of the Middle East. “We have countries that are no longer countries.”

Cardin noted several principles he hopes will be implemented to help bring order to the region, the first of which, he said, is U.S. leadership.

“No other country but the United States can bring any sense of order to the Middle East,” Cardin asserted. “The Sunnis and Shias can’t talk with each other.”

Cardin also discussed the lead-up to the Iran nuclear deal framework that began April 2 and lasted about two weeks. Though he was concerned of a potential stalemate between the administration and Congress, Cardin lauded Obama for putting pressure on Congress by laying down a veto threat to the bill.

Details for the agreement should be finalized by the end of the month, he said, but Cardin is still concerned because Iran has not complied with the terms of the interim Joint Plan of Action that was signed in November 2013.

“It’s absolutely essential to have an effective agreement,” he said, “[and] we must be able to inspect in Iran anywhere we think they’re cheating.”

Added Cardin, “Let’s never make the support of Israel a partisan wedge issue in American politics. There are enough issues that American Jews can disagree on, but Israel should be off limits.”BJC Discusses Agenda

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

‘A Loving Patriarch’ Robert Hiller, philanthropist, community leader, passes away at 93

The Baltimore Jewish community said goodbye to a highly influential figure on May 27 when Robert Hiller died at his Florida home at the age of 93.

Among his many notable philanthropic accomplishments, Hiller served as executive vice president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and was also a president of the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund that helped expand the Kennedy Krieger Institute. That fund also provided Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences with a $50 million endowment. Hiller also served on the United Way of Central Maryland — an organization he helped found.

Hiller grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he lived until 1944 when he became a first lieutenant in the Air Force during World War II. He flew more than 25 missions as navigator of a B-24 in Munich, Vienna and Prague. After the war, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s in social work in 1948.

Robert Hiller (Provided)

Robert Hiller (Provided)

After college, Hiller took a position with the Community Chest of Metropolitan Detroit and helped form the United Foundation of Metropolitan Detroit — a precursor to the United Way in the sense that it brought several community health and welfare agencies together. Hiller went on to serve the Jewish federations in Cleveland and Pittsburgh before coming to Baltimore in 1965, when he became the executive vice president of what was then known as The Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund.

Associated President Marc Terrill called Hiller a “giant” in the field of Jewish communal leadership.

“Through his decades of service, Bob aided in setting a standard for professional practice,” said Terrill. “He was a student and a teacher of community development theory and was guided by an ethical and moral code which distinguished him as a leader.”

As a faculty member and field instructor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and Community Planning for more than 20 years, Hiller also influenced many through his dedication to education. He served on the board of advisors for both the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the Goucher Center for Educational
Resources.

Very hands-on in his philanthropy roles, Hiller also helped establish the National Council on Soviet Jewry and personally greeted hundreds of Russian Jews at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. He played a key role in
securing the American Jewish community’s commitment to Israel by leading several missions there and spearheading a number of fundraising campaigns that inspired others to become involved, including several government leaders.

Hiller also committed himself to helping Northwest Baltimore by starting the organization CHAI and securing funds for the Owings Mills JCC.

Hiller also made the advancement of women in Jewish communal work one of his priorities, as was leadership training and professional education.

After heading north for a two-year stint in New York with the Council of Jewish Federations, he returned to Baltimore in 1980 to assume the presidency of the newly established Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund that allowed him to work closely with his friend Zanvyl Krieger.

Hiller’s daughter Karen Kreisberg said from a young age, she was enthralled with her father’s dedication to his work.

“We used to sit at the dining-room table after he led a mission to Israel,” Kreisberg said. “He would tell us stories and show us small pieces of antiquities. He brought Israel to life for us.”

Kreisberg said her father practiced his presentations, lectures and talks for her and solicited honest feedback. “He let me into his work, and it was a privilege that I only understand today.”

Her father’s legacy was his passion for social justice, said Kreisberg, and his ability to unite local, national and international communities.

“What I think he hoped to do for others was instilled by his mother and rooted in Jewish tradition,” she said. “He wanted to empower the next generation to take responsibility to care for their community and to understand that each person’s contribution made a difference.”

Hiller’s daughter Barbara Schuman said her father had a powerful impact on both the family and the community.

“His greatness was rooted in his love of family, love of community and love of the potential in all people,” she said. “To the public he was a strong and innovative community leader. Our family recognized him as a loving patriarch who guided and nurtured each of us with boundless energy.”

Robert I. Hiller is survived by his wife, Marianne Hiller (nee Silver); children Karen H. Kreisberg (Howard Kleinman); Barbara H. Schuman; and Joshua D. Hiller (Cindy); his brother, Donald (Jackie); grandchildren Michael (Jenny) Kreisberg; Kathryn Vogelstein (Joshua); Dr. Zev Schuman-Olivier (Danielle); Sara C. Schuman (Duncan Willson); Eric R. Hiller; Dr. Marc R. Hiller (Gaby); and Alec P. Hiller; and great-grandchildren Lilli, True, Nolan, Shuntavi, Izzi and Annabel.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com